In all the talk of peace plans for Central America, one simple fact about that increasingly important part of the world is being ignored. It is this: Central America is also Indian America. Beneath the cartographic outlines of seven states are some 50 enduring indigenous nations whose peoples make up 23 percent of the region's population and who inhabit about 40 percent of its area.
The creation of Spanish colonial territories, the establishment of independent states and the procurement of new resources and land for economic development have been accomplished by one simple tactic played out over 500 years: militarily invade and occupy Indian nations and then claim their peoples as followers of the invader's religion, nationality and ideology.
A state of war has existed for 500 years and has claimed millions of lives. It continues to be waged beneath the camouflage state terms of "national integration," "nation building," "economic development," "overpopulation," eradication of "rebels" and "terrorists" and promotion of "peace."
Now Central America is becoming a geopolitical region on a par with the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The area's strategic location between two continents and two oceans attracts bellicose foreign powers that provide money and arms to state governments and insurgents fighting three wars among themselves and six wars against indigenous nations -- wars that have accounted for more than 100,000 casualties and 2 million refugees since 1979.
The United States sees communist influence in Nicaragua as the biggest threat to peace in Central America. This is why the plan devised by House Speaker Jim Wright and President Reagan focuses on ending Communist-bloc military assistance by confronting the Sandinistas with civil liberties and elections instead of with the CIA and the contras. The peace plan developed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias seeks to end the three wars that are a threat to Central American governments by stopping foreign (East and West) military aid and denying staging territory to insurgents fighting in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Preservation of power is the goal of both these peace plans. The United States wants peace to stop Soviet penetration in Central America. Central American governments want peace from insurgents' attempts to overthrow them, but want to continue their own territorial wars against the Indian people of the region.
But where in the peace plans is there any mention of the Guatemalan government's war against the Mayan peoples for their land, or of the "beans or bullets" campaign for their allegiance? Where is there mention of the attacks by Guatemalan anti-government insurgents against Mayan villages?
Where is any mention of El Salvador's annexation of communal Indian lands, an annexation accomplished under the guise of its conflict with leftist insurgents, which is used as an excuse to force the Lenca, Nahuat and Mayan peoples into the army and state camps or to cause them to flee to refugee camps in Honduras? Where is there mention of the fact that Indian villages are attacked by both the Salvadoran government and the FMLN insurgents?
As for Nicaragua, the Sandinistas accuse the United States of doing to their country the same thing that they themselves do to the Miskito, Sumo and Rama nations: using military force and human-rights violations to deny self-determination and to overthrow a popular revolution.
Those three Indian nations were the first to take up arms to defend their territories and to struggle for a land-based democracy in the face of Sandinista military invasion and occupation. They have the only Indian army in the Americas, and are leading an Indian revolution to stop the 500-year-old Central American war against indigenous nations.
The cost has been great: half of the villages destroyed, an Indian diaspora that has forced one-third of their people to flee to 13 countries, and 6-year-old children who have known nothing in their lives but war.
In June of this year, 1,500 Indian village delegates, refugees and fighters held a grass-roots assembly in eastern Honduras to merge the divided resistance groups of Misurasata, Misura and Kisan into a single organization, YATAMA (an acronym meaning the united indigenous nations). The assembly voted unanimously to follow parallel strategies: continue armed resistance to achieve Indian control of Indian territory and at the same time promote Brooklyn Rivera's nine-page peace plan to end the territorial wars against Indian nations.
This plan, which calls for a cease-fire and negotiations, is based on a territorial solution to territorial wars. The Indians have been fighting six years for land-based democracy and self-determination, not for the urban peace of more political parties, elections and newspapers proposed by the Wright-Reagan and Arias plans.
The Indian-Sandinista war is not included in those two peace plans. Thus, even if the contra conflict were to end, one-half of Nicaragua would still be involved in war. If they are not included in a peaceful settlement, YATAMA leaders say they will still be at war, and their fighters will not lay down their weapons. Peace cannot be achieved by ignoring people who will shoot at you if you are on their land by invasion, not invitation.
Peace is more than the cessation of war; it is also the recognition of who is at war and what they are fighting for and against. Central America has nine wars, and the six that are state and insurgent wars against Indian nations for territory and allegiance are excluded from Central American or Latin American peace discussions. Peace is hell. The writer, a professor of geography at the University of California in Berkeley, has worked with the Miskito Indians for 19 years and is an adviser to the YATAMA resistance movement.